There is an incredibly common belief among Christians (not to mention practitioners of Judaism, Islam, and others who take the Book of Genesis seriously): that Adam was created physically immortal and only ceased being so once he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. It is the belief of Roman Catholics, most Protestants, and others. This belief is used to justify notions that our birth and human nature are somehow different than it would otherwise be because of Adam’s sin.
As with anything, we should search the Bible concerning the matter: Adam is mentioned by name 20 times in the NIV and NASB, 29 times in the KJV. Pronouns happen, as does the difficult distinction between the words for “Adam” and “man / men.” Never, not once, ever does the Bible explicitly or implicitly say Adam’s flesh was created immortal.
Of those, some were ostensibly for genealogy / historical purposes alone, and have no discernible bearing on this doctrine (Jude 1:14, Luke 3:38, 1 Chronicles 1:1, for example) beyond that which is necessarily implied from others: that Adam existed on this plane of existence, and was a singular, literal, person, inasmuch as the text treats Adam the exact same as all other literal, singular people.
God does proclaim that Adam will return to the dust after his sin, but is that a change?
17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Yes, God does proclaim that Adam will die a physical death in this passage, but nowhere is it stated that this is a change from Adam’s previous state. In fact, God proclaims that Adam shall eat the herb of the field and work the ground, and this was not a change from Adam’s previous state. God commanded Adam to subdue the garden and have dominion over the animals in Genesis 1:28. There is no reason, therefore, to assume that a future physical death, in and of itself, is a change from Adam’s previous condition.
What changes is Adam’s state of mind about the conditions in which he is in. “in sorrow” Adam would eat of it and work it. He would not eat bread without “the sweat of thy face.” Though I’d be the first to admit that it’s not explicitly stated, the same can be said of death. Death would now bring grief and sorrow instead of just being a normal, natural, beautiful part of nature in which a sinless, living soul (1 Corinthians 15:44) passed from this plane of existence to the next.
The Bible says your flesh is like Adam’s flesh
Several come in Genesis chapter 5, which are both genealogical and relevant to this discussion. Genesis 5:1-6:
1This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. 3And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth: 4And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. 6And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos:
So it goes on, and is repeated in 1 Chronicles 1 to a much larger degree. So we see that Adam is quite clearly treated as a literal, singular person on this plane of existence when he fathered Seth, who fathered Enos. 1 Chronicles 1 goes all the way from Adam to Jacob and Esau, treating them all as is they are real individuals.
Adam begat his sons in his own image, just as Adam was created in God’s image. Adam was created by God, but not a begotten son. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son (John 3:16), because Jesus is actually God. Adam begat sons who were human, who begat sons who were human, just as Adam was human.
1 Corinthians 15:47-48:
47The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
You have a body that is earthly, as Adam’s. Verse 48 makes this clear: your body is earthly, just as Adam’s was. Your flesh is not immortal; neither was Adam’s.
1 Corinthians 15:39
39All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
There is only one kind of flesh of men. If we are to believe that Adam was a real man, he had the same kind of flesh you do: a mortal kind.
When did God say Adam would die, and why does that matter?
16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
So God says Adam would die in the day that he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As noted above, this was not a physical death, because Adam lived much longer than that. It is not possible that God meant this in a physical sense unless God changed his mind, because “in that day” is not all that negotiable.
Do other passages about Adam contradict this?
There are 4 passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the typology of Adam. I quote the KJV from Hosea chapter 6, which does not mention Adam by name, but that’s due to ambiguity in the source texts. Most translations do say “like Adam” in verse 7. Hosea 6:5-7, Romans 5:12-18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 1 Corinthians 15:44-45
5Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. 6For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. 7But they like men [Adam] have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.
12Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
Not one of those passages say Adam’s flesh was created immortal. They do say that through Adam, sin entered the world, and spiritual death through sin, because every person has chosen to sin. If sin exists in creation but was not a part of it, it had to enter the world through a creative source: that source was Adam. You choose spiritual death by choosing sin, being joined to the way of Adam. They also, in tandem, say that you can choose resurrection from this death by choosing the way of Jesus.
What does extra-Biblical reality have to say about this?
God created the sun before Adam. The sun is a star. All starts eventually go supernova. When the sun does go through its God-ordained end stages, it will consume the earth. Therefore, God did not did not create Adam in such a way that his physical body could withstand creation forever. Therefore, Adam was not created physically immortal. His physical body was never intended to withstand God’s creation forever.
Some will try to say that sin corrupts DNA, and that’s why Adam died and passed on death, even though he was created immortal, and this is how death passes on throughout the generations. There is (1) little to no reason to believe this is true, and (2) it completely fails to reconcile Adam’s immortality to the previous paragraph.
If we believe the Bible is true, 100% consistent with itself, and 100% consistent with reality, there is no room for an Adam that was created physically immortal. An immortal Adam is inconsistent with the Bible and inconsistent with reality. Adam died, and we will all taste that physical death. We can also be united with Christ’s death, that we will be raised with Him also.